Archive for the ‘CPH:DOX’ Category

Kash Kash: Without Feathers We Can’t Live (2022) CPH:DOX

Lea Najjar / Germany, Lebanon, Qatar / 2022 / 90 min / World Premiere

Against the backcloth of their chaotic capital Beirut’s pigeon fanciers play the cruel sport of Kash Hamam. The object is to lure other players’ flocks into your own pigeon loft high above the capital. Catching a pigeon entitles you to butcher its wings with scissors, or feed it to the cats: “Because at the end of the day, it’s just animals, just birds”.

Lea Najjar’s lyrical impressionistic feature debut soars above Beirut’s skies to tell the story of a melancholic city and its beleaguered inhabitants still suffering shortages in public services and economic collapse for the past eighty years. But one thing Beirutis can control and master is the pigeon population, and they do so with the same cruelty they complain of receiving from the country’s ‘ruling classes’.

Radwan, a local barbar, has been raising pigeons since he was nine. Despite the rising price of grain he will still go on feeding and tending his birds from chicks, and throwing clementines at them to make stronger flyers, or even cracking whips and slings to scare them into flight from his loft. Kash Haman is a competitive sport but the camaraderie between the men is strong and supportive. In Syria (where the sport is banned because it is considered a form of gambling) the men claim the ‘Kashash’ are  prepared to kill over their feathered friends.

But behind the camaraderie lies a city in disarray. And the problem is the politicians “who pull the blanket to cover only themselves”, according to one fisherman as he navigates the city’s majestic shoreline under a skyscape of stratospheric apartment buildings and cavernous rocks. “If you go to other countries, everyone holds one flag. Here, every sect and party has their own flag”. His sons should be studying at their university but instead they are helping out with the catch. “Our Government does not take care of them” he claims.

Meanwhile Radwan’s little niece begs him to teach her the masculine art of Kash Hamam, but Radwan refuses: “you should be reading, or something”. Meanwhile his Armenian client at the barbar shop is pessimistic about the future of Lebanon. “No matter how much rouge and perfume an old woman wears, she’ll never be young again. Your country is old”. So Najjar doesn’t reach any enlightening conclusions in her film despite its beguiling beauty: the eternal conflict between rich and poor, politician and worker rages on as it ever did in another sad but stunning snapshot of the Middle East. MT

WINNER NEXT:WAVE AWARD 2022 | CPH:DOX COPENHAGEN

The Eclipse (2022) CPH:DOX 2022 | Winner Dox:Award 2022

Dir.: Natasa Urban; Documentary; Norway 2022, 110 min.

A memoire of war-torn Serbia seems even more relevant in the light of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine. What happened in Yugoslavia is clearly not an isolated case: peace in Europe is much more fragile than we thought.

Natasa Urban – who has now settled in Norway – chronicles her memoire of war-torn Serbia between the two last eclipses, 1960 and 1999. A whole country vanished, being replaced after genocide and war by new states, based purely on ethnic composition – a result only made possible by brutal ethnic cleansing.

For the Yugoslavian-born documentarian, it was a reason to dissociate herself from her country. Serbia was the principal, if not the only, aggressor during the civil wars which cost over one hundred thousand lives, and one million refugees – all in the name of ethnic cleansing. Becoming a filmmaker in 2005 was not enough for Urban, she, like thousands others, left Serbia for exile “not only to change our existence, but to become some other people; this tells a lot about the country we left, and the sate of identity we tried to relinquish”.

ECLIPSE works on two levels: there is her father’s diary, retracing his steps to the  family’s previous homes where, in the end, he loads everything, including the ‘kitchen sink’ on the top of his car and leaves the heavily controlled militia zone. The other strand consists of Urban’s diary of interviews with family and friends in what is now Serbia.

Aunt Branislava has some tales to tell: Neighbour Dara dragged every postman through the door of her house, to do what you’d expect… On a more serious note, Branislava tells stories about militia soldiers who enjoyed killing animals sadistically. And when war broke out, they played football with the heads of their enemies. Slobodan Milosevic still loved violence after being elected president with a two-third’s majority; tanks killed demonstrators on the streets of Belgrade. And after the citizens of Vukovar voted to be part of Croatia in August 1991, Milosevic destroyed the city after a prolonged siege. The same city which had been praised for the high number of marriages between Serbs and Croats.

The clerics of the Serbian Orthodox Church put oil on the flames campaigning for a Greater Serbia: “Wherever there are Serbian graves, there should be Serbian land”. One of Urban’s aunts claims that on the day, the state of Croatia was recognised by the world community: “Good luck to them, if they want it so much”. Her work colleagues got angry, shouting “Fuck you”, you are a Romanian minority, if you are not happy here, go to Romania. This is Serbia.” Even the aunt’s boss remained silent. In Novi Sad, Urban meets a girlfriend whose Croatian father had been beaten up in Vukovar by Serbians, because he was married to a Serbian woman. In the POW camp, both sides beat him up.

Nothing remains any more of the POW camp near Vukovar. People came in 1992 and transported the camp’s bricks to their own dwellings, to build extensions. There was even a weekend army: Bosnian Serbs, the ‘Chetniks’, who came to Bosnia over the weekend to share in the spoils of war. The director’s family meanwhile hiked up the mountains. “When we descended, we learned that Kraiina had fallen”. Natasa’s Dad is still questioning what went on. “I cannot understand why our troops had to kill in Srebenica.” Natasa, could not believe what she heard: “Dad, they killed over 8000 people in two days.” Natasa’s brother Igor never slept during the bombardments. Only when the empty planes returned could he fall asleep. His only link to the outside was the news on TV. But the NATO planes destroyed the nearby TV tower. He begged his parents to let him go to Vukovar, but they refused.

The last chapter is the titular solar eclipse of 11.8.1999. Serbian TV and media had warned the population to stay inside because the solar radiation was particularly harmful during the eclipse. Having planted this paranoia, the streets were deserted and people literally locked themselves in.

DoP Ivan Markovic follows both the travels of father and daughter with clear images of the impressive landscapes, and the citizens’ ruined souls. Natasa is asked by relatives “why couldn’t you say something good about Serbia, like mentioning the beautiful Obedska swamps or the Laguna book store”

Meanwhile, since 2012, Serbia has been ruled by former allies of Milosevic, who died three years before the trial verdict in Den Hague was passed. “This new circle of nationalism stops the painful process of the Serbian public addressing its involvement in the war crimes”. AS

WINNER DOX:AWARD CPH:DOX COPENHAGEN DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL 2022

A Night of Knowing Nothing (2021)

Dir.: Payal Kapadia; Documentary with the voice of Bhumisuta Das; India 2021, 99 min.

Indian director/co-writer Payal Kapadia, whose short films have been awarded numerous awards, returned to Cannes in 2021 with her first feature documentary A NIGHT OF KNOWING NOTHING, winning the “Oeil d’Or, Prix Documentaire” for best documentary film of the festival. Poetic as well as politically engaged, A NIGHT is a collage made from home videos, archival footage, CCTV recordings and scenes shot from mobiles.

The feature unfolds in an around the campus of the ‘Film and Television Institute of India’ in Pune where letters and a box of clippings and letters written by a female student, simply called L, who was writing to her boyfriend K. The love letters, soon became more and more politically engaged. K. had left the campus, and was literally imprisoned by his parents, for dating the lower cast L. Arriving back. he did not even speak to L, obeying his parents. Now L.s letters were written not to K. but “the man he could have been, or the one I loved once”.

The story dates back to June 2015 when the Modi government, after a landslide victory at the polls, took over all aspects of public life in India introducing their Hindi nationalism to the whole country including the Film and Television Institute. Gajendra Chauhan, who rose to fame in the 1980s as an actor in soap operas, was named the new director of the Film School, his only qualification was his rabid espousal of Modi’s politics. These involved raising tuition fee by 300%, which particularly hit Dalits (formerly Untouchables) and lower cast students the hardest.

The students called a strike which went on for several months. The Police were called in by the government, female students were threatened with rape by the police officers. Violence spilled over to other universities. L, voiced by Bhumisuta Das, edits the films of friends, before engaging more and more in the strike actions. The students’ main slogan was “Eisenstein, Pudowkin – we shall fight, we will win”.

Students graduated with a much different perspective than before the strike. They now had to find a way to make films for Dalits and lower class members, who were repressed by the Modi government. L writes: “We must make sure the ones who make the shoes for the rich, or harvest their food, have a voice”. It is obvious her own experience with her ex-boyfriend played a large part in her politicisation.

DoP and editor Ranabri Das create a dramatic arc showing the escalation of police violence, and the students’ reactions. Like L, many students had started out as proponents of art-house films, but the experience of state violence changed their outlook dramatically. Apart from K that is, L asking in one of her letters, “how could you be so strong when the police attacked, and so vibrant and in the meetings when you give in so easily to your parents”.

A NIGHT is a vibrant kaleidoscope of film styles and personal experiences which suddenly become entwined in the vicious circle of police brutality. L’s identity is changed by outside forces and she emerges no heroine, but no victim either. AS

I’m So Sorry (2022) CPH: Dox 2022

Dir: Liang Zhao | Doc,

Liang Zhao’s gracefully cinematic and quietly persuasive documentary depicts not just the devastation caused by nuclear accidents but also the emotional fallout of those affected by events such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.

In these days of dwindling power supplies the nuclear option is ongoing. According to the World Nuclear Association’s 2020 report there were still 442 reactors in existence, most are in the US, China and France and around 40 under construction. But Zhou departs from a dry scientific study to focus on the human and environmental cost and the eerie wastelands left by defunct nuclear sites. He also makes use of a Japanese figure that floats silently through abandoned power plants – if ever there was a scary device in an straightforward eco-documentary it is this one.

From the outset camera pans over the devastation caused by the nuclear power plants of Chernobyl and Fukushima, and the silent ruins left behind by the population who fled the directly contaminated areas. Some, mostly elderly people with nowhere else to go, stayed on, enduring the devastation and emptiness both accidents have generated in an existence that stretches before them, alone in the universe. One old woman has spent the past thirty years completely alone in the Chernobyl decontamination zone, surviving off the land in a smallholding. Her approach is calm and philosophical: “Death takes everyone eventually, but they told us a load of nonsense, and sealed all the water wells. How can the water be contaminated, when it looks so clean”.

A menacing soundscape accompanies a slow-paced collection of stunning shots of  remote landscapes and ruined interiors recording a poignant memory of lives destroyed. Melted dolls with singed hair, and tiny ballet shoes lined up against a row of painted cots are all that remains of a nursery school. The deafening silence is the most powerful element.

Driving home his anti-nuclear message in a gentle way is so much more persuasive than the threatening approach of so many eco-docs. Zhao also invites us to question the absurdity of a situation where the nuclear power plant accidents led the affected areas. “Is it the past or the future?”.

Many disused nuclear facilities are now being painstakingly taken apart, and we see the gruelling efforts by a team in Germany forced to spend their days hosing down every inch and angle of the former steel monstrosity; “What one generation builds, the next with dismantle” comes the inevitable voiceover comment.

The film culminates in a sorrowful scene in Belarus, near the Chernobyl Exclusion Site, of a mother tending to her seriously disabled daughter “we weren’t told not to love when we moved here” she explains.  Sadly, I’m So Sorry has no positive message to offer her after showing us a Hell we have been part of creating. There is no bright future on the horizon or any hope in the near future.  Zhao Liang crafts a powerful anti- nuclear plea to the world, if only the world leaders would listen. MT

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Pawnshop (2021) CPH:DOX 2022

Dir: Łukasz Kowalski | Doc, Poland

Poland’s largest pawnshop has moved from the centre of the city to the outskirts, but still cannot make a profit, largely down to a lack of business expertise by its eccentric owners Jola and Wisek.

Clearly their bizarre relationship captured the imagination of first time writer/director Lukasz Kowalski in his rather dubious and structureless undertaking. The pawnshop is clearly a labour of love for Wisek and Jola who puts fake Zloty notes cut from a magazine in the till in the pretence of hard cash. Often customers are asked to pay “what they want”. There are only 86 Zloty in the cash register at the time of filming.

In a shop boasting over 70,000 items there seems to be a preponderance of deer antlers and non-functioning electrical items, including a kettle that nearly exploded on a trial run. Crystal glass is also a great runner, so we are told; but the 19th century phone, many have an eye on, is not for sale at any price, it belongs to Wisek and he is keeping it. A look at the book section shows an abundance of self-help titles: ‘Medicine and Sex’, ‘Women and Sex’ ‘A new way of Sex’. Either the previous readers want to pass on the knowledge or gave up trying to improve their lives.

Customers ringing to complain about faulty goods purchased are given short shrift by Jola who tells them, in no uncertain terms, to repair the items themselves. When Wisek shows her a ‘mammoth tooth’, he has bought and hopes will bring in a healthy profit, the two nearly have a bust up. Next, there is some complaint about some welding equipment and Loya nearly burns the place down with a blow torch.

The shop assistants moan about their pay, or the lack of it. Jola expects gratitude for keeping them on in the current climate, but the workers are not impressed. Jola and Wisek have been together for eight years, but there is not much love left, Wisek claiming: “You only care about money, not feelings”. Jolanta, one of shop assistants, is so bored she starts trying on fur hats. They suit her, but on her salary, she could never afford them. Finally, Jola and Wisek come up with a marvellous new idea.

DoP Stanislaw Cuske does his best to make the dowdy subject cinematically appealing but with a long line of banalities and hardly any dramatic arc, he runs out of ideas. Kowalski was clearly intending to make a mockumentary about this sorry state of affairs but sails a bit too near to the wind in the current state of living crisis. AS

SCREENING AT CPH:DOX 2022 | SELECTED FOR THE DOC ALLIANCE AWARDS

 

Under the Sky Shelter (2022) CPH: DOX 2022

Dir: Diego Acosta | Doc, Chile 68′

The past collides with the future in this provocative pastorale shot in refreshing black and white. It follows Chilean shepherd Don Cucho on a sinuous almost sinister odyssey through the craggy wilds of the Andes mountains to the valley with his herd of over a thousand sheep, a few men and dogs. His journey is as atavistic as the hills and as well-worn, but Acosta’s inventive filming techniques and an edgy ambient soundtrack gives this a surreal and unsettling twist that makes the down-to-earth suddenly dangerous and otherworldly in the hostile terrain. Now is the time for the seasonal movement of the animals to pastures new. Once they reach the valley, the animals can graze at their leisure for the rest of the season.

Writer director Diego Acosta works as his own DoP on 16mm often viewing the herd from above as it flows like a remote and rhythmic river of moving objects or shape-shifting creatures surging along in outer space. Others scenes are straggly and fraught as the beasts struggle awkwardly through a rushing stream stumbling as they make their way up the hillside under a sultry sky peppered with stars.

There are languorous times too in the heat of the midday sun where clouds scud mysteriously into a silent sandstorm. Then winds whistle through the makeshift overhead canopy that protects the shepherd from the searing sun. But the night comes soon with its secrets and shadows and the Don lies down for the small hours til dawn. A clump of flowers takes on exotic guise in the moonlight, and a reverse flowing waterfall looks magical yet quite frightening – a simple idea but supremely affective in this dreamlike feature full of surprises and unusual juxtapositions, time-lapses, shifting lights and shadow-play. A yearly journey becomes meditative, mysterious and magnificent yet as old as time. MT

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Electric Malady (2022) CPH:DOX 2022

Dir.: Marie Lidén; Documentary with William Hendeberg; UK 2021, 85 min.

Radiation from mobile phones, electrical devices and pylons now affects around 3% of the World’s population, according to WHO.

In her first feature documentary Marie Lidén explores the condition through William Hendeberg, 40, who suffers from ‘Electro Sensibility’ and is forced to live in a special hut constructed by his father Jan, in the remote hamlet of Ekeby Björn, Närke, south central Sweden.

Only a decade ago William had a perfect life: he was writing his master thesis, having spent three years at university in Boras and Gothenburg. A gifted musician, he played in no less than four bands. Now he exists in a hut, like a Faraday cage, covering himself in blankets made out of cotton and copper threads to block the microwave radiation. And that’s not all. A special mosquito net also helps to dissipate out any other radiation. “I don’t want the camera so close”, he tells the film crew, “it makes it difficult for me to focus”.

William lives like a recluse. In the early days of his illness he used to venture out but now it makes him feel so unwell, he has stopped doing it. He listens to music, Sinead O’Connor is a favourite “I need music, it shakes the soul. I usually start with nice, happy music, then something more funky, ending up with punk. ‘Lindisfarne’, makes me feel good too. I put a cake tin over the CD player, so I don’t get too bad.” He points to a collection of tea caddies. “Me and my ex, Maria, we loved tea caddies”.

We watch a video shot by William himself in 2007, and another of him playing in a band. “I was so bewildered at first, but it was almost exciting for a while”. At that point he only went out into the radiation-free forest nearby, even though he loved the freedom of the city. But it made him too ill with burning and cramping pains in his forehead. He needed days to recover from his city trips. “Like having your head caught in a vice.”

When is all started, William worked in a library, standing in for his partner Maria who showed milder symptoms of the disease, particularly as a reaction to fluorescent light and the computer screen. “The counter in the library was fitted with a loop for the hard of hearing – this was the beginning. Three other people working there had the same symptoms”. He has had no contact with Maria for 18 months now, after she left the caravan they were living in she got married and had children. We watch a video, Maria cutting William’s hair. They seemed happy.

William has got used to darkness, even though he is addicted to colours, particularly green and red. As his father tells us, William has always loved Christmas. So his parents ‘visit’ their son with presents. They celebrate as if he was still a child. William knows his parents have cried a lot, they want the old ‘William’ back. And are hoping they can all go and visit his sister Alexandra in Karlskoga. One of his chief concerns is that people think he is exaggerating. Everyone just hopes he will recover one day.

Electro Sensitivity has not been acknowledged by the medical profession so William tries to soldier on, not wanting to upset his family. A herbalist has given him some relief: William can now stay up longer, and is more able to focus in his reading and writing. his autobiography is already underway, but he cannot write creatively. “I am still curious about life”. And has started to go out and about, even though it makes his symptoms get worse. He had a phone installed via fibre optic cable: “After 15 years I have a speaker phone. I can talk to somebody who is not here. It feels amazing. But I am still waiting for a miracle, to make me better slowly. I long to be out, in freedom”.

DoP Michael Sherrington uses the camera in a very sensitive way – the quality of the shot is always secondary to William’s condition. Maria Lidén has certainly raised awareness and understanding of this little known condition. Rather like lung cancer, as a result of smoking, and endometriosis, it took the medical profession many years to acknowledge their existence. Lidén approaches her topic without any frills or sentimentality in a direct and informative, but always empathetic approach. An eye opener, produced on a shoe-string budget. AS

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Outside (2021) CPH:DOX 2022

Dir: Ohla Zhurba | Doc with Roma, Ukraine

Ukraine. A field of sunshine yellow. A boy runs laughing through the blossoms. Then back to reality. “We will defend Ukraine our homeland”. The Maidan uprising and molotov cocktails fly and vehicles blaze in the black smoke. The clamour is constant and 13-year old Roma is in the thick of it, a street sign serves as his shield against the encroaching onslaught. Then darkness.

Olha Zhurba’s feature debut follows Roma a street boy neglected by state and family who became a post boy for the Ukrainian revolution back in 2014. Seven years later he would be released from his orphanage into the adult world with nothing but a knife and a lighter. Virtually illiterate he drifts in and out of prison for petty crime to make ends meet. Bright-eyed, dark-haired and able-bodied Roma then shuttles from pillar to post looking for a ‘social dormitory’, somewhere to sleep. At last he gets his head down in a squalid bungalow with a friend (or maybe a brother) Kolia, in Yahotyn, on the outskirts of Kyiv where the police are constantly monitoring his movements on video surveillance cameras. But there are happier moments in the soft summer countryside when he meets a girl and sort of falls in love. But how can you love when your mother left you. And most of his time is spent looking for his mother, or at least her grave. Meanwhile police presence is like a silent doom bird, voyeuristic video surveillance tracking his movements on a 24-hour basis.

Zhurba makes use of a range of techniques to flesh out Roma’s backstory with flashbacks and a black screen accompanying his VoiceOver conversations back at the orphanage. Along with Volodymyr Usyk’s roving camera footage, Zhurba pieces together an impressionistic but ultimately tragic fractured narrative of survival for a opportunistic drifter who once had hopes of “getting an education and moving to America” but now rejects offers of work, scraping by as a bottom-feeder with nothing left to lose. MT

SCREENING AT CPH:DOX | COPENHAGEN DOC FESTIVAL | UNTIL 3rd April 2022.

They Made us the Night (2021) CPH:DOX 2022

Wri/Dir: Antonio Hernandez | Doc, with the Salinas Tellos | Mexico, 66′

Stories from Latin America continue to entrance not least this dreamy wonderful work of art marked by its lush tropical settings and fluid camerawork. It follows a Mexican family through their everyday life to reestablish themselves in Oaxaca on the Pacific Ocean after their lives were destroyed by Cyclone Dolores back in 1974. 

Animals are as much part of these people’s life as their fellow humans. And the Salinas Tello family are no different. We see young son Adonis talking to their livestock and pets and even riding the billy goat. Catholic by religion the Salinas Tello are Afro-Mestizo, a mixture of African, Native and European, and are fiercely proud of maintaining their identity through oral traditions involving bouts of intense communication, singing and chanting marked by ‘tonales’ (animal spirit links), devils and cyclones all in Spanish, their native language . Preparations are underway for a patronal celebration in the village, and, inevitably the family pig is slaughtered. Adonis asks questions but strangely gets few answers on this occasion. The band starts rehearsals complete with hornets, trombones and other wind and percussion instruments along with exotic costumes and bizarre masks drawing on local myths and folklore.

Antonio Hernandez achieves a perfect balance between Alonso Maranon’s sumptuous visuals, an exotic and often sinister soundscape created by Luis Ortega, along with the endless discussions to convey the togetherness of this cohesive, tight knit community where voluble dialogue seems to be the key to survival and wellbeing. MT

SCREENING DURING CPH:DOX | FIPRESCI WINNER GUADALAJARA FESTIVAL 2021

 

A Taste of Whale (2022) CPH:DOX 2022

Dir: Vincent Kelner | Doc 85′

The Faroe Islands archipelago is one of the safest places in the world, but not for its community of whales. Each summer several hundreds of pilot whales, members of the dolphin family, are slaughtered in the green fjords to provide food for the islanders. In his feature debut French TV director Vincent Kelner uncovers some surprising angles in exploring this emotive practice known locally as the ‘Grind’.

Jens Mortan Rasmussen has eaten whale meat for most of his life and feels privileged to have grown up in the Faroe Islands: there are no big cities and surrounded by vast open landscapes he enjoys the ability to source his own food from nature. We first see him slicing through a massive chunk of whale meat proud that he has killed the animal himself – one of the 60-90 whales he has so far slaughtered to feed his family. Trying to do it as quickly and as humanely as possible he sees no difference between killing whales, sheep, or battery chickens – who suffer the worst conditions during their short lives – for subsistence. And put this way, he certainly seems to make a point.

Since the 16th century, whale meat and blubber has been a traditional form of nourishment in these remote Danish islands, and most Faroese grow up eating the rich source of protein several times a week. But the islanders do not kill or eat larger whales, and even push them to safety if they stray into more shallow waters, and we see Rasmussen actively helping out when some of the large whales become stranded due to sonar difficulties. Runi Nielsen claim to film the slaughter so that study slaughter methods and try to improve on them.

Faroe Islanders are fiercely protective of their language, culture and history and take great exception to any interference in their way of life, especially from the Sea Shepherd activists who feel passionately opposed to whale slaughter: predominantly vegetarians and vegans, they are actively opposed to animal slaughter, not only in the Faroes but everywhere else in the world. They believe pilot whales to be sentient and sophisticated beings capable of referential communication, and should be allowed to roam free under animals rights protection believe the mammals. Their presence on the islands is a viewed as a menace by the Faroese who claim their new improved methods of slaughter are so much less cruel than they used to be, with improved weapons and less damaging fishing hooks. The islanders feel there is a lack of integrity in the way their country is being portrayed as knee deep in the blood of whales while elsewhere animals are routinely slaughtered humanely (or not, in the case of Halal). A spokesperson for the Shepherds feel that Faroes, a self-governing archipelago, and part of the Kingdom of Denmark, benefit from free trade agreement with the European Union, although they chose to remain outside so they could maintain control of their fisheries, and indulge in whale killing, which is actually illegal in the rest of Europe. Other animal rights organisations are also joining the defence of whales. Maybe it’s the way the whales are rounded up and hunted down ‘en masse’ in a blood-bath massacre that is so upsetting to outsiders.

Scientist Pal Weihe points out that whales are the top of the ocean’s food chain and their health is reflected in the state of the ocean’s polluted water. He claims that the pilot whales also contain high levels of toxic chemicals particularly ethyl mercury and this, according to recent studies, has had a detrimental affect on the brains of the islands’ children. The Islanders are not recommended to eat more that 250 grams of ‘Grind’ per month and startling evidence seems to point to an end to the practice of whale hunting, if not now, certainly very soon. For the time being whalers continue to eat poisoned meat as an act of tradition despite clear indications that it their health.

With its striking visual imagery and breathtaking widescreen images of this remote part of the world A Taste of Whale serves both as an ethnological portrait of a community in flux and informative look at the way animal cruelty is viewed as the world moves towards sustainable practices. Kelner presents a balanced portrait of a controversial topic and the final moments of the film are really hard to watch if you are opposed to animal cruelty.MT

NOW SCREENING AT CPH:DOX 2022

Hide and Seek (2021) CPH:DOX 2022

Dir.: Victoria Fiore; Documentary; UK/Italy 2021,85 min.

In the back streets of Naples’ ‘Spanish Quarter’, Entoni dreams of Gomorra. First time filmmaker Victoria Firore follows into teenaghood charting his descent into juvenile prison.

Entoni is just ten when we see him burning down Christmas trees and other petty crimes with his older friend Dylan. His grandmother Dora, is no stranger to crime, a former member of the Camorra she provides the key to Entoni’s past, forced into a life of crime when her husband went to prison. And so did her daughter Natalie when Entoni’s father was given a long-term sentence. Like father like son, crime is endemic in the local community, normal territory for these boys. For Dylan and Entoni this is par for the course. “Boys without fathers grow up angry”, according to Dora. Entoni’s younger brother Gaetano is only too willing to take on the mantel of crime – as we discover in the post credits.

Young Entoni already has a reputation: “Don’t bring Entoni here, he will hurt you”, is the word on the street. A local mother blames the movies: “They copy what they see in  films.” On the radio, a serious voice talks about taking the guardianship away from parents who are involved with the Mafia. Meanwhile Dora does a Tarot to predict Entoni’s future, and the future is not bright.

In a disused jail, Dylan and Entoni talk about their favourite film, surprisingly Titanic. Dora reflect; “We sin, because we have to survive”. Her husband told her he was on drugs when Natalie was seven months old. Stealing was her only way to survive, her husband dying in jail. He had some form of cancer, and when Natalie saw him for the last time, he was like a skeleton, and she was never the same again. Watching a procession, Entoni muses,” in ten years I will be twenty-two and married”.

To avoid Nisida juvenile prison, the authorities decide to put Entoni in a reform school – But Entoni has no intention of staying: “when put him into a reform school before, he was back home earlier than we were”, comments Natalie. Entoni seems to prefer the  countryside to the city, and there are some shot of him wandering around looking vaguely calm. During a visit to his father’s prison, he waves his bandera frantically. But his imprisonment in Nisida comes earlier than expected, setting the tone for the rest of his young years. Is seems the die is cast for these boys: “We are the kids from the Quarter, to hell with everyone else. Prions are always with us. Entoni is always with us.”

Fiore, who grew up in Naples, maintains her distance never sensationalising the boys’ sell-induced tragedy, conveying the inevitability of it all in a lowkey empathy but never sympathy. AS

SCREENING DURING CPH:DOX | UNTIL APRIL 3, 2022

Into the Ice (2022) CPH: DOX 2022

Dir: Lars Henrik Ostenfeld. Doc, Denmark/Germany,  86′

The edge of a cavernous ice moulin is certainly no place to take a selfie, as we find out in this spectacular documentary from director and cinematographer Lars Henrik Ostenfeld. He accompanies three scientists to glacial Greenland in search of what the ice can tell us about the future of our world. The cinematic journey plays out like a thriller with a gripping climax and some tears along the way, and, predictably there is no happy ending 

Climate expert Jason Box, professor Dorthe Dahl-Jensen and glaciologist Alun Hubbard are the three intrepid specialists who are risking their lives to gather vital data on climate change. Most of the research can be undertaken via satellite but nothing beats actually being there to experience the treacherous winds, icy wastelands and spiralling depths of the ice moulins, vast frosty holes stretching into oblivion below the surface. Ostenfeld’s endeavour is part of a project which serves not just as exploratory undertaking but also to raise awareness of the critical stage at which our world has now arrived. 

When it comes to scaling down into an ice moulin Alun Hubbard is certainly your man.  Beaming with confidence he is chipper about the descent and certainly puts our minds at rest as he bounces down 175 metres into the black void below. And Ostenfeld is quite relieved to hand his camera over to security expert Claus Kongsgaard the following day. Apparently the conditions are ‘too warm’ and too dangerous for the director to accompany Hubbard who admits to being happy should he lose his life in the process. 

Meanwhile, Jason Box is doing a  spot of yoga before measuring the rate of snowfall that in turn predicts the loss of pack ice below the surface. In a flimsy tent reinforced by ‘ice walls’ he hunkers down against the raging winds with his colleague Masashi Niwano. The two have trekked for 12 days in hostile conditions and decide they deserve another cup of coffee after gathering their vital evidence. 

Professor Dorthe Dahl-Jensen is triumphant as she holds up a block of ice which is 5000 years old. In her study to predict climate change over the past 100,000 years she is able to see how the ice has changed through its bubbles of carbon matter. These courageous souls certainly lighten their heart-sinking  findings in a documentary that makes ‘the science’ as clear as arctic water, and as chilling. MT

SCREENING DURING CPH:DOX 2022 

The Treasure of His Youth (2021) CPH:DOX 2022

Dir.: Bruce Weber; Documentary with Paolo di Paolo; Silvia di Paolo, Marina Cicogna, Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini; USA 2021, 109 min.

US director/co-writer Bruce Weber (Let’s Get Lost) re-discovers one of Italy’s most influential photographers: Paolo di Paolo, born in the small town of Larino, in 1925. He photographed all the stars of Italian post-war cinema from 1949 and 1968: Anna Magnani, Marcello Mastroianni, Sophie Loren, Gina Lollobrigida and Pier Paolo Pasolini, to name but a few. But had it not been for Giuseppe Casetti, the owner of the Maldoror bookshop in Rome, Paolo’s archive would have never seen the light of the day, let alone two major exhibitions.

Paolo di Paolo, vivacious as ever in his mid 90s, still has the train ticket from Larino to Rome where he would study philosophy, his “escape” back in 1949. Growing up during twenty years of Fascism such luminaries as Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway had also escaped him until then, along with US music. Joining ‘Il Mondo’, a magazine founded by Mario Pannunzio in 1950, he fell in love with the camera, in this case a ‘Leica’. Pannunzio was an excessively intellectual editor-in-chief, his staff joked that the magazine had more authors than readers.

For Pannunzio, photos told a story, they were an autonomous narrative. The magazine became the training ground for great photographers, every shot had to be “like a piece of theatre”. Paolo’s coterie included the filmmaker Roberto Rossellini and the writer Alberto Moravia. Actress Anna Magnani, whose son had polio, set di Paolo a strict set of rules for their sessions. Pier Paolo Pasolini became a close friend, his photo of the director at the tomb of Gramsci is one of the iconic images of Italian political history. There is a visit to di Paolo’s old friend, the film producer Marina Cicogna, who produced, among others, Bunuel’s Belle de Jour and Pasolini’s Teorema. Cicogna, who lived for over twenty years with the actor Florinda Bolkan, recounts how Pasolini was well aware of the ‘death wish’, before his murder in Ostia. The poet and director was deeply religious, and could not accept his homosexuality in this context. Bernardo Bertolucci reminisces about first meeting Pasolini on a Sunday afternoon at his parent’s front door. He took Pasolini for a thief and locked him out before telling his father he had a guest. Both filmmakers look back with laughter at the memory.

Silvia, ii Paolo’s daughter, now looks after her father’s archive and runs his life, freely admitting how difficult he can be. She sets up a Zoom call with fellow photographer Tony Vaccaro, from the same generation, who grew up in small-town Pennsylvania, becoming a war photographer, before later settling for fashion photography. “The smell of our homes is still in our nostrils” comments Di Paolo.

The end is impromptu and not at all what Weber had in mind: di Paolo gains access to the backstage photography at the Valentino Couture fashion show in Paris’ Place Vendome. The 94-year climbs onto a step ladder to take photos, feeling invigorated by the experience he expresses a desire to live in Paris: He was back in the saddle after given up in 1968 when ‘Il Mondo’ was forced into liquidation and TV took over the newspaper media agenda, di Paolo turning his attention back to philosophy and history.

Treasure is a rhapsody in black and white: somehow di Paolo’s photos and the archive images from TV and newsreel fail to coalesce aesthetically with DoP Theodore Stanley’s own shots in the trip back to Larino. But the film clips from the “Golden Age” of Italian cinema round up a bravado lesson in film history. Exciting and informative. AS

NOW SCREENING DURING COPENHAGEN DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL 2022

CPH: DOX 2022 | Focus on Ukraine

Scandinavia’s premier documentary festival CPH:DOX kicks off on 23 April with 200 international films of artistic quality and contemporary relevance that speak volumes about the world we live in.

76 are world premieres in a year that will have a particular focus on Ukraine and Russia in the festival’s main competition, Dox:Award. CPH:DOX 2022 will run as a hybrid festival with film screenings and industry events in Copenhagen from April 23 to May 3, 2022. In addition, a selection of films will be made available for streaming in Denmark from April 1-10.

Focus on Russia and Ukraine

With the war raging in Ukraine right now, expect to see the latest films that go behind the news flow and provide new perspectives on the reality in Russia and Ukraine. Here, the audience will get the chance to experience the story of the famous Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned with the nerve gas Novichok and is now imprisoned in Russia. The films Navalny, Holidays (image above) and Outside have all been selected for the main competition Dox:Award. CPH:DOX will also screen the world premiere of Novorossiya, a new film focusing on the lives of people in war-torn Eastern Ukraine. The focus programme includes the critically acclaimed Danish Sundance winner ‘A House Made of Splinters’ about an orphanage in the eastern part of Ukraine, as well as a number of other films about Russia and Ukraine.

Competition line-up

The five competitions, that will all be evaluated by an international jury, are: Dox:Award, New:Vision, F:act Award, Nordic:Dox Award, Next:Wave Award. The full competition line-up consists of 59 titles and features 39 world premieres, 16 international premieres and 4 European premieres.

DOX:AWARD

12 films including 6 world premieres, 5 international premieres and 1 European premiere.

INTO THE ICE (Lars Ostenfeld, Denmark/Germany, World Premiere) main image

A grand, cinematic adventure on the Greenland ice sheet with three leading scientists in search of what the ice can tell us about our climate, our past and possible future.

THE ECLIPSE  (Nataša Urban, Norway, World Premiere) image above
With the solar eclipse in 1999 as her mirror image, an exiled film artist turns her analogue film camera on her family in ex-Yugoslavia to map how a dark past remains embedded in the present.

THE FALL  (Andreas Koefoed, Denmark, World Premiere)

A 10-year-old girl miraculously survives a fall from the fifth floor. Six years later, she is looking to escape the trauma. A subtle, sensitive coming-of-age film about a very unusual young woman.

FIRE OF LOVE (Sara Dosa, Canada/United States, International Premiere)

A unique, poetic and visually stunning adventure film about a French scientist couple, based entirely on their own footage from travels in search of erupting volcanoes in the 1970s and 80s.

GIRL GANG (Susanne Regina Meures, Switzerland, World Premiere)
A contemporary fairy tale about a 14-year-old influencer and her biggest fan. But life as a social media star has a shadow side that the adrenaline, fame and free sneakers can’t make up for.

HIDE AND SEEK  (Victoria Fiore, United Kingdom/Italy, International Premiere)
Four furious years in one of Naples’ toughest neighbourhoods, where all three generations of a single family live on the edge of the law. Can the family’s youngest son break the dark legacy?

HOLIDAYS  (Antoine Cattin, Switzerland, World Premiere)

Russia’s record-high number of holidays are celebrated at an upbeat balalaika pace and with black humour in a lively mosaic of impressions from life in the vast, inscrutable country in the East.

MIDWIVES (Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing, Myanmar, European Premiere)

A tale of the complicated relationship between Rohingya and Buddhists in Myanmar, told over five years through the eyes of two midwives from either side of the divide.

NAVALNY  (Daniel Roher, United States, International Premiere) image above

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalnyi is both detective and supposed murder victim in a brave docu-thriller about the assassination attempt at his life. Timely, urgent, nerve-wrecking.

 

OUTSIDE (Olha Zhurba, Ukraine/Denmark/Netherlands, World Premiere)
As a 13-year-old boy, he became the poster boy of the Ukrainian revolution. Now Roma is back on the streets with nothing in his pocket but a lighter and a knife as a new conflict looms.

THEY MADE US THE NIGHT (Antonio Hernández, Mexico, International Premiere)

Supernatural visions and indigenous folk myths intrude in an unpredictable and dreamlike Mexican film about a family living in the shadow of the apocalypse. A living, organic work.

UNDER THE SKY SHELTER (Diego Acosta, Chile, International Premiere)

Chilean debut in sparkling, analogue black and white. A lone shepherd crosses rivers, forests and cliffs with thousands of sheep. As he loses himself in the mountains, dreams appear like ghosts.

CPH: DOX runs from 23 APRIL to 3 MAY 2022

 

I Passed for White (1960)

Dir: Fred M Wilcox | Cast: Sonya Wilde, James Franciscus, Patricia Mahon, Elizabeth Council | Drama 63’

Far from being the trashy exploitation movie signalled by the title, the rather bland groupings by veteran director Fred Wilcox actually heighten the drama that grows and grows and grows, with the final resolution only coming right at the very end.

Based on Mary Hastings Bradley’s novel, James Franciscus’ aryan good looks are perfect for the leading man who you never know which way he’ll jump. But but as usual it’s the women who are the most interesting characters: Sonya Wilde in her screen debut after making her mark on Broadway taking over the role of Maria in ‘West Side Story. Pat Michan as the friend who’s the only one in on the heroine’s (literally) dark secret, Elizabeth Council as the menacing mother-in-law who you are never sure how much and what exactly she suspects; and especially Isabelle Cooley as the ever-present but quiet and inscrutable maid who is yet another element in the film that keeps you guessing. @RichardChatten

NOWN ON YOUTUBE

Children of the Enemy (2021) CPH:DOX 2021

Dir: Gorki Glaser-Muller | Sweden, Denmark, Qatar | Doc With Patricio Galves, Clive Stafford Smith, Isabel Coles 95′

Like most stories coming out of Syria since the recent reign of terror this is a familiar one chronicling days of anguish amid political turmoil. Children of the Enemy centres on one man’s Kafkaesque journey to rescue his family and take them back to their homeland of Sweden. Meanwhile the Swedish authorities and even the media keep a low profile for fear of repercussions.

Chilean Swede Patricio Galvez cuts a tragic figure as shares his pain with filmmaker Gorki Glaser-Muller. Told simply, its tone of ongoing desperation being the focus, it tells how another unsuspecting victim – his nubile daughter – became radicalised and married one of Sweden’s most notorious ISIS terrorists.

After both were killed in the fight for a caliphate their children were left high and dry, lost somewhere in the Al-Hol prison camp in Northeast Syria. A moving phone montage on Patricio’s mobile phone is all he has left to identify the kids during his nightmarish 45 day recovery mission through Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile every minute could be their last. Days of desperation and disbelief add to the ongoing narrative of this ‘missing persons diary’ in a world that grows more and more hostile, less compassionate as allies and enemies become increasingly indistinguishable. MT

CPH:DOX | WORLD PREMIERE|  INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION  | COPENHAGEN DOC FESTIVAL 2021

 

 

Lost Boys (2021) CPH:DOX 2021

Dir.: Joonas Neuvonen, Sadri Cetinkaya; Documentary with Joonas Neuvonen, Jani Raappana, Antti , Lee Lee, Thi, narrated by Pekka Strang; Finland 2020, 99 min.

It all started with Reindeerspotting-Escape from Santaland back in 2010. Its Finnish director Joonas Neuvonen turned out to be a drug dealer from a middle class background, and this fuelled the storyline for Lost Boys, a drug-powered tour of Thailand and Cambodia to celebrate the film’s success. Joining him were petty thief and addict Jani Raappana, and his mate Annti. Reindeerspotting co-writer Sadri Cetinkaya co-wrote the script.

Three months later Jani would be found dead in Phnom Penh. How he met his fate is still uncertain. Indications are he was murdered. Pekka Strang narrates, as the voice of Neuvonen, commenting from his cell. The trio were heavy users of ‘ya ba’, formerly known as yama, a potent mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine, also used as a horse drug, and favoured by soldiers, taxi drivers and sex workers.

Lost Boys chronicles their down-spiralling nightmare into Hell, a modern day, sordid version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The drug culture inevitably leads to debt, organised crime holds sway with death squads enforcing control. Sex workers are all part of the picture, the exploited leading their clients into the hands of the drug lords. Cambodia’s turbulent past has contributed to the country’s post traumatic stress disorder that started with colonisation and culminated with the Khmer Rouge. Sex tourism involving adults and children is now rampant throughout Cambodia. The country’s horrific history – past and present – plays out in a gruesome montage to the strains of La Marseillaise, as colonialism meets today’s sex tourism.

Neuvonen maintains his sole interest is in saving Annti and finding Jani’s murderer, but at the same he seems ambivalent about his mate, coming clean about the anti-hero of his first film: “I wanted him to vanish. I wanted him to die”. But will he be the only survivor of this trip to Hell?

Meanwhile Jani’s girlfriend Lee Lee and her friend Thi are compliant vessels for the sins of others and Annti is the victim of paranoid psychosis believing the nearby radio masts are there to stalk his thoughts and send the messages to a company called “Sky”.

What makes this quasi detective story so compelling is the way we’re led by its unreliable narrator in a non-linear narrative full of elliptical deceits imbued with hallucinatory visuals from dizzying handheld cameras. More than just a story, Lost Boys captures a state of mind – lies coalesce to cause the downfall of all three men whose paradise of sex and drugs leads them into a maze of death. Colour grading and editing sustain the scratchy edges of the documentary that floats in a woozy soundscape, leading us on a fractious journey as the men drift into a harrowing cul-de-sac. Lost Boys is a visual poem of the cruellest most nihilistic kind.

CPH:DOX | APRIL 2021

Zinder (2020) IDFA

Dir.: Aicha Macky; Documentary with Sinya Boy, Bawo, Ramsess, Americain, PGG; Mali/France/Germany 2021, 85 min.

Nigerian writer/director Aicha Macky grew up the former leper’s quarter of Zinder, Niger’s second biggest city on the border with Nigeria. It’s a Godforsaken land-locked place where corruption is rife and education and opportunities are few, especially in the backwater of Kara-Kara where Islam holds sway but is hardly a civilising influence, the young men get by resorting to a gang culture and violence.

So it’s left to the women, and one brave soul in particular, to find out what’s gone wrong. Macky talked to those left behind by society, who only know violence as a means to change their lives. Her film is another shocking testament to depravity and disillusionment.

Two men on a motorcycle: on a mast a flag with a drawing of Adolf Hitler emblazoned with Swastikas. These two are joining their friends for a body-building session, explaining that “Hitler is the name of a guy from the USA”. The group might not know their history, but they are proud “because nobody is crossing the gangs of Kara-Kara”. The main enemy are the police: “I pray for Boko Harem, to come and f…k the cops”. Progress in there world sees knuckledusters replacing belts as their main weapons. Gangster movies influence their behaviour and they are proud of their scars.

Some have chosen a profession, like Idrissa Sani Malam, who ‘drives’ a sort of rickshaw taxi and is particularly proud of a scar left by a woman, “we were lovers, or I was at least a regular client.” Sex traffickers are part of the territory, their victims are girls as young as 15. Even women in the “Red Light district” are not protected, least of all by the police: They have not found the perpetrator who had slashed a woman’s throat three month ago. One way or the other, most of them end up in prison, a notoriously sordid place, where the men queue to use squalid latrines.

Meanwhile, Salissou Cikara visits a friend waiting for his trial and blaming ‘snitches’ for his fate. Cikara then goes home to his pregnant girlfriend, whose ultrasound costs the earth: 3000 Francs for the ultrasound, 9500 Francs for a blood test, and that’s not the end of the story. The civilised world has brought medicine, but at a price.

Bawo “has done a lot of bad things”. Like kidnapping girls in short skirts and abducting them into make-shift rooms “where we emptied ourselves into them. If they screamed, we put our hands over their mouths. We were breaking them in, with knives. Over time, they got used to it and became one of us. Reggae music plays all night as we smoke weed and take Tramadol.”

There’s always someone to blame for societal breakdown. This time it’s the ‘foreigners’  for stealing the country’s minerals. Ramatou Ma Main – Ramsess for short – is a hermaphrodite who gets by smuggling gasoline in daring night raids, hunted down by federal custom agents. Rumour has it that the gasoline smuggled into Niger actually belongs to the state of Niger. And votes on election days are rather cheap, 2000 Francs does not go far. Then Cikara has a brain wave: they will give up crime and form a security organisation – but this costs money. So the gang goes and works hard in the nearby quarry, but worse is to come, and Cikara dreams on. DoP Julien Bossé takes us to the centre of the action, his incredible footage particularly of Ramsess’ last raid and confrontation with the custom officers feel like a violent action thriller but this is a real life. Aicha Macky goes where her male director colleges would not dare to go: unflinchingly into the heart of darkness. AS     

ALSO SELECTED FOR CPH:DOX | PREMIERED AT VISIONS DE REAL NYON 2021 | NOW SCREENING AT IDFA 2021

 

 

Symphony of Noise (2021) CPH:DOX

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Dir.: Enrique Sanchez Lansch; Documentary with Matthew Herbert; Germany 2021, 93 min.

Spanish director Enrique Sanchez Lansch has followed British composer Matthew Herbert for ten years to record his experimental sounds in this rather experimental film that plays out like a performance.

Herbert’s credo is that mankind should listen more closely to sounds, if they want to topple right-wing governments – even though the Kent born composer admits that this target may be too fanciful. The genre-breaker Herbert has a proven track record: over 30 albums, film scores, among one for Ridley Scott, and an Oscar for the score of A Fantastic Woman (although the opening track was actually Alan Parson’s Project classic ‘Time’. 

Whether underwater or in outer space, Herbert feels entirely at home, composing even for audiences who are asleep. But it all started much closer to home when Herbert recorded the noises of his newly-born piglets for the rest of their lives – even during their slaughter. He is tired of the repetitive approach to piano and violin, so has learned to play both instruments from scratch, transferring his critique to the cooking of an omelette.

Forty-four eggs are first selected, a bared-footed woman then crunches the shells, the sound creating a sort of entirely new sounds while the omelette is being made. Other sound mixes include people having sex; forests being cut down; and an over-ground train in Berlin. Having lived in the city, Herbert has created a sound Symphony of people dying (79) and being born (183), with his “orchestra” performing the applicable noises like the final breath and first cry.

Mahler’s music is certainly appropriate for a staged funeral, with the composer combining this performance, and discovering that Mahler had to use a flute for a birdsong, whilst the teenage boy Herbert could use a recorder to catch the original sound of the birds.

In the RIAS Berlin radio station, Herbert rehearses his BrexitBig Band“, to protest against the vote in favour of leaving the EU. “Leave all the fuckers and their hatred behind” is one of the refrains. Having watched Emma swim for 14 hours in the English Channel, we then imagine a love song between an English and French person on the shores of the English channel aka ‘La Manche’.

Tree cutting sounds remind the composer that “we are all living in an emergency situation. Nevertheless, he still has time to deep-fry his trumpet in a Fish and Chip shop, before ending in space with “the impossible sound of solar winds” and “the sound of virgin lights hurtling through space.”

DoPs Thilo Schmidt and Anne Misselwitz use appropriate images for this cacophony of sounds. And although Sanchez Lansch starts to feel like a mischievous magician pulling too many rabbits to pull out of a hat with his myriad exotic recordings Symphony is certainly inventive and full of weird ideas that occasionally stun and surprise the audience. AS

CPH:DOX COPENHAGEN 2021

The Last Shelter (2021) IDFA

 

Dir.: Ousmane Samassekou; Documentary; Mali/France/ Germany, 2021, 85 min.

Malian director Ousmane Samassekou has filmed random travellers from all over North Africa in a transit home in Gao, near the Sahara Desert. Most have come a long way, the nearest from the Malian capital of Bamako which is 496 km away – and some as far away as Burkina Faso. Their common goal is Algeria, a stepping stepping stone away from France and Italy where there are magic money trees and streets of gold. The reality is migrant camps and years of misery.

The Caritas –  House of Migrants caters for mostly young people whose aim is to cross the desert, however reluctantly, to their families in Bamako or more far-flung destinations. Many of the girls and women have spent time in captivity and have been raped. Yet they travel on regardless, risking it all. One 16-year old girl talks about the usual teenage pipe dreams of becoming a celebrity, an actress or a boxing champion. Far from this reverie is the reality of road blocks, where they often robbed on the money to pay the people smugglers taking them over the border. They’d have been much safer staying at home with their families.

Esther doesn’t want to share details of her relative, ashamed that she has not made it to France, even though her family has given her money to support them from Europe. So her dreams are largely built on wild ideas from unrealistic parents who are simply living in the cloud cuckoo land of social media, and she is caught in an invidious trap. Another young woman had ended up in captivity, and only thanks to a benevolent older woman, has been released – but she still wants to try again to get to Europe from this Sahara’s hostile terrain and treacherous sandstorms.

Mariko, an older man, begs staff not to send him to Bamako where they will give him injections which make him sleep all the time. Another young woman was sold by the man who was supposed to be looking after her. Endless stories from Sahara crossings are told: “You die without warning. No matter why, they shoot us like chickens.” The staff warns them over and over again: “Your dreams and illusions make you feel clever, but you will not reach your destinations, it is better to have a job at home, than to dream of abroad.”

Made on a shoestring budget, The Last Shelter could do with a re-edit. But the rawness of the material lends itself to some structural inadequacies, a more polished version would only mask the terror these migrants have been through – and, worse, want to risk all over again. Their lives are so far removed from the dream of the places they want to reach – they think that wearing the logo teeshirt of a millionaire footballer from Barcelona and Arsenal – will transport them on a magic carpet to that lifestyle. They as well might try and reach Mars. AS

|CPH:DOX | DOX:AWARD Winner – Main Competition
|DOK.fest Munich (5-13 May) | NOW SCREENING DURING IDFA 2021 | 17 – 28 November 2021

A Man and A Camera 2021 | CPH:DOX 2021

Dir.: Guido Hendrikx; Documentary; Netherlands 2021, 64 min,

“What are you doing here? Why are you filming me?” is exactly the reaction you’d expect if you rang someone’s doorbell and randomly pointed a camera at them without any permission. But this uncontrived candid camera approach also throws up some unexpected results.

But this exactly what Dutch director Guido Hendrikx did in his observational documentary that sees him wandering around a small, unnamed town in the Netherlands, candid camera at the ready when doors are opened. The film also works as a fascinating exploration of front doors, many of them works of art.

The reactions of the homeowners in not unexpected. One person threatens quite reasonably to trash his camera, another one attempts it un successfully. Somebody wants to know “is there a deeper meaning” – apparently not. The man with the camera is told by one rather stoic man, who lets him into his house, where he carries on filming, ” he should be aware that the police may take an interest in him, you know, there are group chats, and one may get frightened”. His grandchildren are certainly not afraid.

In the town square we watch two female police officers looking at their mobiles, but no action is taken. Another couple lets him into their home and he keeps filming, whilst coffee is prepared. Gradually people let him into their homes, and their hearts as the film becomes a surprising arm’s length confessional: The wife tells him “I’ll only work for another three weeks, then it’s over. I’ve worked for the same employer 31 years. My husband was laid off two years ago, because of his age, that’s not nice, is it?” But when she goes into the kitchen, she tells her husband: “Keep an eye on him, yes”.

Soon our cameraman is becoming part of the wallpaper for several of his subjects, gaining their confidence as he inveigles himself into their lives. The soon to be pensioners are a case in point. The grandfather is also unfazed by the filming, asks the filming guest to “Leave me a note if you go, and tell me why you were here”. Left alone, the cameraman films the family leaving as Leonard Cohen’s ‘Going Home’ ends a rather enigmatic feature.

At heart we are all social animals in the right conditions. A Man and A Camera is another example of how people often accept unconfrontational intrusion in their lives, taking things a step further than their voluntarily offerings shared on social media. This uninvited guest here offers an opportunity for people to unburden themselves, a non-religious confessional, almost, once a level of trust has been established. Given the placid, unquestioning nature this unsolicited interloper, people are only to happy to let him into their lives. Hendrikx observational film makes insightful impact as an informal social study. He observes and we observe too – no questions asked, or explanations needed. AS

SCREENING AT CPH:DOX | 21 April – May 2021

CPH:DOX | DOX:AWARD – Main Competition

Aalto (2020)

Dir: Virpi Suutari | Finland, Doc 103min

This comprehensive biopic about one of the greatest designers of the 20th century is both an affectionate tribute to the work of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and a touching love story. Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto (1898-1976) and his architect wife Aino Aalto shaped the modern world of design through their cutting edge buildings, furniture, textiles and glassware in much the same way as America’s Charles and Ray Eames and even Britain’s Terence Conran.

Virpi Suutari digs deeps into the archives with her writer and award-winning editor Jussi Rautaniemi (The Happiest Day in The Life of Olli Maki) to take us on a cinematic journey into life of a man whose designs were boosted by rapid economic growth in Finland and encompassed the lofty Finlandia Hall in Helsinki and the practical Paimio Sanatorium. For over five decades, from 1925-1978, the Aalto modernist aesthetic gave rise to iconic creations such as the Beehive light-fitting (1959), and the 406 armchair (1939) which remain essential style markers for the conoscenti. And even if you couldn’t afford a house designed by the Finnish luminary you could at least have one of his curvy Savoy vases (inspired by a Sami woman’s dress). These timeless modern creations could be made on an industrial scale but still retained a sense of simple luxury rooted in Finnish heritage from sustainable local materials such as birch wood, and glass blown in the littala factory.

Finnish documentarian Virpi Suutari shows how Alvar and Aino were not only talented architects but also a popular and cosmopolitan couple whose designs would become classics, defined by their practicality and precision. The Savoy vase won the Karhula-littala design competition in 1936 and would go on to be an iconic and elegant everyday item.

The film then travels further afield to show how Aalto’s civic and private buildings have stood the test of time and still associate well with their natural environment, from the private Villa Mairea in the late 1930s, to a university in Massachusetts, a pavilion at Venice Biennale and an art collector’s house near Paris, these were not ‘starchitect’ projects sticking out of the places surrounding them, but elegant and practical “machines for living” that provided for every eventuality. Aino and Alvar co-founded their furniture design company Artek in 1935, Aino becoming its first design director with a creative output that included textiles, lamps and interior design with clear and simply style, and this made way for complete design package, from lighting to door handles.

Opting for a straightforward chronicle approach Suutari shows how Aalto first set up a practice in his home town of Jyväsikylä in 1921 working on schemes that followed the predominant Nordic classism of the time. Meeting and marrying Aino Marsio in 1925 was the turning point, personally and stylistically, and after the birth Johanna later in 1925 (son Hamilkar would arrive three years later) the couple set off for Europe to discover the Modernist International style. But the groundwork for the practice was founded in Functionalism, and the Paimio tuberculosis sanatorium (1929-1933) was precisely that – providing a user-friendly and practical solution to healthcare (Aalto also designed most of the furniture with the famous Paimio chair devised to assist patients’ breathing).

From then on designs became more fluid with the increased use of natural materials and spatial awareness. The concept once again went from the outside inwards, with interiors and even small details such as fixtures and fittings all forming part of a cohesive aesthetic. One of Aalto’s main achievements was the invention of the L-leg system that enabled legs to be attached directly to the table, he also pioneered the practice of bending and splicing wood, leading to the curved look of the tables and stools. This also meant that furniture could be created on an industrial scale, through defined product lines that were also patented.


Aino and Alvar enjoyed a close partnership in work and in love, with Aino’s travels to source ideas for Artek often taking her away from home until her early death from cancer in 1949. During these times apart the couple kept in touch by a constant of letters, and these epistolary exchanges are woven into the narrative expressing a certain freedom that hints at an open marriage but also a healthy flexibility that helped to keep their relationship alive, according to Suutari’s take on events. This is a love story that brims with positive vibes, and clearly the couple drew contentment and creative energy from their secure family life and love for their children.

After Aino’s death, Alvar was not to be alone for long, he soon married young architect Elissa Makiniemi and the couple would go on to design a villa just outside Paris on their return from Venice. La Maison Louise Carre (main pic) was completed in 1959, for art collectors Olga and Louis who had rejected Le Corbusier deeming his concrete style too austere. Aalto again created a complete package for the couple, with garden design, garage and interiors (now open to the public since since 2007).

Enlivened by family photographs and plentiful archive footage, diagrams and painstaking research, Aalto is a pithy yet concise undertaking that will satisfy professional as well as dilettante appetites. We are left with an impression of the artists as warm, creative and compassionate individuals who would change the face of Finland not just for the few but for the many who continue to celebrate his design legacy all over the world. MT

www.alvaraalto.fi | PREMIERED AT CPH:DOX 2021

To the Moon (2020) CPH:DOX 2021

Dir.: Tadhg O’Sullivan; Documentary, ROI 2020, 71 min.

This first solo outing for writer/director and editor Tadgh O’Sullivan is a hymn to the moon compiled of countless clips and texts from over 130 films featuring the lunar planet. Like most compendium films To the Moon stimulates the desire to revisit the originals – mostly Nordic and German films –  not just as quotes – but in their entirety.

This moon admiration marathon is divided in sections with the first three entitled: ‘Because the Moon feels loved‘; ‘Because its always alone in the Sky‘ and ‘Loom of the Moon‘. The goddess of the Moon is apparently called Luna, yet ironically the word has now come to be connected with the mentally challenged here on Earth (lunatics).

The next chapter, ‘The Werewolf’, explores intruders into the home after the hours of darkness, and particularly those of a canine variety. ‘Ebb Tide has come to me’ is a melancholic segment dealing with ageing and featuring as its themes water and death in the moon shine: “Winter of age which overwhelms everyone”.

‘Part of a Dream’ looks at children’s relationship with the moon and we watch, among others, a clip of Edgar Reitz’ Heimat, where the young narrator asks himself “Is it the same Moon over Russia as over Schabbach?”

A little boy asks a father if he is part of the moonlight dream in ‘The Moon is Ours‘ and we enjoy a clip from Fritz Lang’s horror outing The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960). Meanwhile a very unromantic Italian man drives his knife into a tree, destroying a heart carved into the trunk, his female companion looking hopefully up to the gleaming planet. Finally, ‘Earth Fragment‘ brings us back to the cruelty of nature, an owl is attacking a rabbit in the moonlight.

Three years in the making To The Moon is a labour of love, O’Sullivan has certainly done his homework, but one wonders how much is really to his credit. Impressively edited and entertaining To the Moon is an enjoyable foray into the film archives testing the audience’s knowledge of film history AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | VENICE NIGHTS 2020

UK films featured in To The Moon:

– Dangerous Moonlight, (Brian Desmond Hurst, 1941)

– The Smashing Bird I Used to Know (Robert Hartford-Davis, 1969)

– The Tell-Tale Heart (JB Williams, 1953)

– Ulysses (Joseph Strick, 1967)

– Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

– Der Mude Tod (Fritz Lang, 1921)

– Magic Myxies (F. Percy Smith, Mary Field, 1931)

– Floral Co-operative Societies (Mary Field, 1927)

– Cottage on Dartmoor (Anthony Asquith, 1929)

– Buxton Well Dressing (George Kemp, 1904)

– Children’s voxpop: Y Dydd (1969)

– The White Shadow (Graham Cutts, 1924)

– Lobsters (John Mathias, 1936)

– A Throw of Dice (Franz Osten, 1929)

 

 

 

 

Crazy, Not Insane (2020) ***** CPH: DOX 2020

Dir: Alex Gibney | With Forensic Psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis MD, Richard Burr, Park Dietz, Catherine Yeager; USA 2020, 117 min.

What happens in the brains of serial killers? Oscar winner Alex Gibney, who won an Oscar for his documentary Taxi To The Dark Side, examines the facts and the psychology of murderers based on research by forensic psychiatrist Dorothy Ontov Lewis, in this chilling but sober film about criminal psychology.

Professor Dorothy Otnov Lewis, forensic psychiatrist and lecturer at Yale and NY university, is best known for Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), a phenomenon she continues to question since coining the term in 1984. Her work with serial killers Arthur Shawcross and Ted Bundy brought her to the conclusion that DID was the result of brain dysfunction, abuse in childhood and psychotic paranoia.

Otnov Lewis is a lively and voluble medic who makes this comprehensive study engaging and enjoyable despite the gravity of the subject matter. She describes how brain dysfunction affects the frontal lobes responsible for controlling  (among other things) our emotional responses and empathy. Injury of this vital part of the brain leads to impulsiveness, poor judgement and emotional liability. Together with childhood abuse and a tendency to paranoia, this is, as it turns out, a deadly combination. 

By way of background she describes going to kindergarten during WWII her main concerns were not being picked last for team games and her disappointment that Hitler’s suicide robbed her of insight into the motives for his genocidal politics, and she later eagerly followed the Nuremberg trials. A career as a Freudian analyst seemed the logical next step. But her studies at Yale School of Medicine led her via New Haven Juvenile Court and saw her running a clinic specialising in the neuro-psychiatric characteristics of young people in Long Lane School, a detention facility for violent juvenile offenders in Middleton (Connecticut). This experience changed her mind. She worked with the neurologist Professor Martin Pincus, a collaboration they continued at NYU, where they had access to Bellevue Hospital prison.

An interview with CBS TV in 1983 focused on children who kill and brought her into contact with a lawyer defending two juvenile children on death row. Lewis and Pincus interviewed all the death row inmates in Starke/Florida. Among them was Lucky Larson (not his real name), who was sentenced to die for hacking his two victims to death. Tests revealed his frontal lobes had been injured. In course of their investigation, Lewis and Pincus uncovered that Lucky’s mother had started sexually abusing him when he was six. His jealous father became violent with his son. But despite this revelation the jury in his re-trail still found him guilty. Lewis’ only consolation was his inability to see the reality of his situation: his frontal lobes had been disconnected from the rest of the brain.

Lewis had more success in trial with Arthur Shawcross, a notorious serial killer. He was saved from the electric chair in November 1990, thanks to Lewis’ intervention. Shawcross, whose mother bit his penis when he was young, said in an interview with Lewis “I am here, but I am not really here. I am fighting with myself. I am two people doing something bad.” Lewis used the MRI of his brain for her defence, but the prosecutor’s forensic witness Park Dietz, a medical bigwig who Lewis would continue to cross horns with during her career, tried to destroy her testimony.

Then there was the case of Johnny Frank Garrett, 17 years old, who had murdered a nun. He was a schizophrenic whose brain damage led to seizures. Lewis and the defence asked for clemency, but the states of Florida and Texas were in competition to secure the most death penalties. The Texas governor basically washed his hands off the case and let the Clemency Board decide. The result was a 17:1 vote for execution.

The Clinton administration was in power at the time and the president had already shown in his home state of Arkansas that he was tough on crime. Although there were some counter demonstrations against the executions, the majority literally celebrated the perpetrators’ deaths. Arcade games featured executions on the electric chair, where a dummy was put to death by the player for 25 cents. It is interesting in this context, that Lewis would interview Ben Johnson, the travelling executioner, who was also a part-time electrician. He proudly told Lewis about his grandson’s encouragement in his work: “Zap them, Grand Pa.” Strangely enough, Lewis is much more concerned about the little children sitting on his lap (“I will get accused of molestation”) than the nineteen people he had executed. Johnson states candidly that he had no nightmares, but the paintings he did after every execution show a tortured soul.

Dorothy Lewis was the last person Ted Bundy spoke to just before his execution on 24.1.1993. Bundy had made a performance of his trial, and everything he said was seen as a part of his grandstanding. But in her interviews with Bundy, Lewis discovered that Bundy’s grandfather Sam had been a violent person and an pornography user. Bundy’s grandmother had depression and his own mother, Eleanor Louise had taken “pills” to abort the boy. Bundy spent two months in an orphanage before his mother united him with his siblings. Ted run away from his violent grandfather, and there were rumours that Sam was his biological father, which DNA tests proved to be wrong. When Lewis got a collection of love letters from his wife, she found out that Bundy had signed some of them with ‘Sam’, the name of his grandfather. Bundy told Lewis that “in late Winter 1969, this ‘entity’ reached the point were it was necessary to act out. The ‘entity’ takes over the basic conscious mechanism of the brain and more or less dictates what’s going to be done. It was unobtrusive at first, something that sort of grew on me. It began to visualise and phantasies’ about more violent things. But by the time I realised how powerful it was, I was in big trouble.” He had become his grandfather, and while the public was celebrating his execution Lewis, who never wanted the perpetrators she interviewed to be released, lamented “how much could we have learned from Bundy had he been allowed to live. But we have gone back to the Middle Ages, burning witches.”

Gibney has made this dark chapter in America’s history even grimmer by incorporating 2d, and 3d black-and-white animation which pictures Lewis sitting on both the electric chair and outside the death chamber, looking into her Alter Ego’s eyes. Lewis is also seen painting in stark black strokes the Hell, her patients inhabited. DoP Ben Bloodwell makes this a disturbing masterpiece enriched by Lewis’ gracious presence. AS

CPH:DOX 2020 and on HBO DIGITAL TV in certain territories. 

    

        

 

Bitter Love (2020) *** CPH:DOX 2020

Dir. Jerzy Sladkowski. Poland/Finland/Sweden. 2020. 86 mins.

Russian couples pack their emotional baggage for a romantic voyage on the Volga in this entertaining but tonally offbeat curio from Polish filmmaker Jerzy Slodkowski (Don Juan).

Essentially a series of disparate encounters between its often disillusioned characters, Bitter Love tests the temperature of love in contemporary Russia and finds it either troubled or rather buttoned down, particularly where the men are concerned. The women are full of disillusionment but remain chipper and ever-hopeful of redressing the emotional balance or finding love again, even though the past has often given them a kick in the teeth, on the feelings front.

Sailing down the languorous waters of Russia’s most famous river aboard the appropriately named ‘Maxim Gorky’ riverboat, this upbeat documentary is as realist as it can be in scoping out romantic possibilities for a shipload of modern Russians, from all ages and walks of life, who we first meet setting off a cloud of coloured balloons each containing an ardent wish.

In the singletons corner there is Oksana (or Xenia) a middle-aged disillusioned romantic who shares her woes with Yura a bulked-up bodyguard type who actually turns out to be a bit of a softie, strumming his guitar and crooning like a troubadour. There is also petite Yulya who makes a bid for taller, older mate but soon has second thoughts.

Not all are footloose and fancy-free: it falls to an earnest young singer and her pianist playmate to set the tone musically with their classical accompaniment. Meanwhile, another older couple in a longterm relationship, Sacha and Lyuba, are clearly entering troubled waters – and even the odd set-too – threatening to rock the boat, both literally and metaphorically, but also adding a spark of humour to this river-bound odyssey of lost souls.

Apart from an interlude on dry land, or sand – as it turns out to be – this is a mostly close-up affair that pictures its protagonists in restaurant tete-a-tetes or in the intimacy of their cabins, but there’s a stagey artifice to these encounters that somehow doesn’t make them ring true, despite their earnestness. Compelling stuff nevertheless. MT

CPH:DOX 2020 | ONLINE IN CERTAIN TERRITORIES

Songs of Repression (2020) Dox Award | CPH:DOX 2020

Dir: Estephan Wagner, Marianne Hougen-Moraga. Doc, Denmark 90′

Few stories from the Pinochet era are more tragically sinister than that of the Colonia Dignidad in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. Here a German community suffered years of abuse in thrall to  a cult of religious fanaticism that wreaked a reign of terror and some of the worst atrocities of the Chilean dictatorship.

Villa Baviera couldn’t be more idyllic in its mountain freshness in contrast to the events that took place behind closed doors. Filmmakers Wagner and Hougen-Morgaga have adopted a novel but restrained approach to illuminating this little known episode of terror, calmly and thoughtfully opening the door to understanding how those affected have gradually come to terms with their past. The directors spent just over a year filming with this stricken community of around 120 surviving inhabitants and perpetrators, who suffered under the draconian regime of Paul Schafer for over three decades from the early 1960s to the late 1990s.

What emerges is sometimes difficult to believe. To all intents and purposes this rural idyll seems the perfect place to live with its glorious climate and lush mountain setting. Residents are surrounded by the beauty of the Chilean countryside where they spend their days gardening and even bee-keeping. There is also a care home for older residents. But behind the scenes they reveal experiences that are beyond belief involving beatings, abuse both sexual and verbal, and forced participation in singing songs that glorify their lives in the Villa Baviera, rather than demonise them.

The thrust of Songs of Repression is on the present rather than the past: there is no archive footage, although we do discover how Schafer was eventually dealt with. The filmmakers focus on  the regime’s effect on its inmates and how their psychological well-being was warped and destroyed by the gradual trauma and abuse. They are only now starting to recuperate after years victimisation, Anger and disappointment replaces fear and oppression, and the idea that sex is actually an expression of love rather than of violence and hatred.

Not everyone there is completely outraged by what happened, some still foster the idea that Pinochet was actually misguided and misled. And this human individuality of response in the face of tragedy is what ultimately makes Songs of Repression so remarkable and ground-breaking as a documentary testament to the past. MT

SONGS ON REPRESSION WON THE DOX PRIZE at CPH:DOX 2020 

 

A Shape of Things to Come (2020) **** CPH:DOX 2020

Dirs: Lisa Marie Malloy & J.P. Sniadecki. US. 2020. 77′

A Lone Ranger of the worst type is how best to describe the unappealing main character in Malloy and Sniadecki’s unsettling documentary that sees a heavily bearded, raddled man living an isolated existence in the Sonoran desert, his only companions his dogs.

With its prescient themes of self-sufficiency and even social distancing this borderlands Western shows how possible it is even in the 21st country to survive as a hunter gatherer far removed from society, a telephone, vehicle and electricity the only mod cons at your disposal. The filmmakers adopt a slowing-burning and detached approach to their subject shying away from any formal narrative and letting the camera drift around following Sundog through his day. Meanwhile a growing tension gradually leads us to believe this intriguing ethnographical portrait will have a more sinister outcome than the one it started out with — Sundog emerging merciless and triumphant having shot a wild boar and leaving it to bleed out in a grim death, clearly not wanting to waste another bullet on the dying animal.

The Senoran desert is a dangerous place to live and full of snakes and poisonous insects, Sundog harnesses a desert toad and milks it for its bufotenin, a tryptamine derivative which when dried and smoked causes psychedelic trips lasting around an hour. He cackles, belches and makes strange whooping noises as he goes about his business – and we also see him doing his business. Later he shares he feelings about his lifestyle in a caustic, slightly embittered tone: “Outwitting the US government and avoiding people I have no affinity for is a win-win situation”. There are occasional glimpses of the US surveillance towers, evidence of big brother monitoring his idyllic wildlife existence. But a coiled snake continually seen lingering in the grass could shape up to be equally intrusive.

What happens next leaves us in no doubt about Sundog’s general disdain for mainstream culture, and the lyrics of a song he sings along to give a clear indication that he has possibly left some emotional baggage behind to seek solace in the wilderness. The film ends leaving us slightly unsatisfied hinting at doom but never delivering the final sting.

Known for his Locarno Golden Leopard nominated The Iron Ministry and El Mar La Mar which he directed with Joshua Bonnetta, Shape Of Things is an intriguing film and beautiful to look at with its striking desert scenery captured by Sniadecki and Molloy who also act as their own editors and composers of the film’s haunting electronic soundscape. Sundog is like the snake in the grass, simmering quietly but ready to strike at any moment if provoked in this compelling walk on the wilder side of life. MT

SCREENING DURING CPH: DOX 2020

 

 

State Funeral (2019) Mubi

Dir: Sergei Loznitsa | Doc, Ukraine

Ukrainian Director Sergei Loznitsa shows how the Russian Communist dictator Joseph Stalin still held his citizens in thrall at the mammoth funeral to commemorate his death. State Funeral concludes Loznitsa’s historical trilogy that started with The Event and was followed by The Trial.

Sixty six years after his death Stalin still exerts a cultish fascination in the West. According to the Yale Professor of History Timonthy Snyder, Stalin killed more people (including Ukrainians) than Hitler killed Jews – 27 million were murdered and 15 million starved to death during his regime (mentioned in the film’s end credits) – but he is still revered by many who espouse Communist ideals in contemporary society.

Expressing a strong opinion is not Loznitsa’s style. He merely ponders the aftermath of one of modern history’s bloodiest dictators with this sombre and dignified documentary that makes used of Danielius Kokanauski’s cleverly edited archive footage to reflect the extraordinary pomp and ceremony that continued for four days and brought the Russian nation to a complete standstill as it wallowed in a sea of mass mourning, the droning voice of the loudspeakers recounting the grim details surrounding the father-like Stalin’s demise.

There is a bizarrely hypnotic quality to this wordless documentary that mesmerises for over two hours as we contemplate the massed crowds moving like silent waves around the casket covered with a shroud the colour of dried blood, known as ‘Kremlin Red’. We can make out the dictator’s children Vasily and Svetlana amongst the morass of floral tributes. Clearly they were numbed by the shock of their father’s sudden death on 5 March 1953 after a massive stroke, in his mid seventies.

Officials are seen relaying the casket on a bier surrounded by a forest of blood and bandage coloured flowers, the lid is removed to reveal the waxy face of the embalmed Stalin as a silent sea of mourners drifts by to the solemnity of a symphony orchestra and massed choir. The restrained remembrance ripples out into the countryside beyond Moscow where millions gather to pay their respects.

After three days of mourning the casket is finally closed and taken on a horse-driven vehicle to Red Square where it will remain on longterm display in the Lenin mausoleum until it is finally sealed in the walls of the Kremlin, eight years later.

The final act is one of inflated speeches and puffed up orations. Nikita Khrushchev is one of the speakers, he would go on to succeed Stalin as first secretary of main Communist Party Committee. Georgy Malenkov, Vyacheslav Molotov and Lavrentiy Beria are also in attendance. Loznitza once again triumphs with this remarkable endeavour that exerts a mysterious power over the audience, captivating despite a 135 minute running time. MT

NOW ON MUBI

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